Norton Rose Fulbright's leadership to end Russian memo controversy
In response to the Russian invasion, Gerard Pecht publishes statement from leadership stating that opposition to Russia is unequivocal
To end a controversy surrounding an internal memo telling lawyers not to remark on Russian sanctions, Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) executives have issued a statement expressing their 'unqualified' opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It had also been circulated internally after informing staff that the memo would not prevent them from speaking out against the invasion during an earlier clarification of the firm's position on the memo. The statement was posted on LinkedIn Tuesday evening US time by global chief executive Gerard Pecht.
According to a statement Norton Rose Fulbright stands strongly with the Ukrainian people, who are being invaded by Russia. "Our hearts are deeply grieved and shocked by the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine and we support any efforts designed to bring an end to this war," further added.
The firm officials added that they were adjusting to ensure compliance with all sanctions and new laws, which would lead to them ending certain client relationships. Firm officials said future changes would be communicated as events unfolded.
As a result of the memo being revealed by The Lawyer on Monday, a controversy erupted because the firm said it specifically dealt with 'external commentary on sanctions' since it is important that legal advice is issued through 'the appropriate channels'.
Shearman & Shearman's global managing partner, George Casey, shared an article from The Lawyer with his colleagues. He wrote: "Is Norton Rose Fullbright serious?" Which side of history are you choosing in this moment of change for humanity?''
NRF Canada's chief executive officer, Walied Soliman, replied: "I want it to be completely clear: we stand with the people of Ukraine. Period. My encouragement to all our partners and colleagues is to speak out.
Soliman's remarks were a clarification of the firm's position regarding the memo on Tuesday. He clarified that the firm did not prevent its members from expressing whatever views they may have regarding the broader Ukraine invasion and they are fully supported in doing so.
It is clear from the controversy that leading law firms are under immense pressure to take a stand on public affairs when they have traditionally preferred to remain out of the spotlight. NRF is among the firms that have Russian offices, where there are additional concerns about how public comments may affect staff. Pecht's statement indicated that the firm was considering our 50+ employees in the Moscow office, as well as their families.
Nevertheless, LinkedIn has been flooded with posts denouncing the invasion by commercial lawyers, many written while logged in as a personal account. Their list includes partners who have represented Russian clients at law firms like Hogan Lovells and Quinn Emanuel.
'The two most important stakeholder groups for any professional services company are the company's employees and clients,' said Mitchell Evans, former EMEA head of communications at Baker McKenzie and director at Byfield Reputation Counsel.
Putin's invasion of Ukraine represents a binary reputational risk for business that I've never encountered before. The one thing you always want to avoid is being on the wrong side of history.
Yesterday, the UK's top 30 law firm Kennedys said it had closed its Moscow office and was in the process of closing it due to the "uncomfortable" direction to which the country is headed, according to global senior partner Nick Thomas.
Besides Bakers, White & Case and Linklaters both confirmed that they were reviewing their Russian client lists. White & Case, like Bakers, said that some clients would have to be dropped.
London-based arbitration specialists Baiju Vasani and James Dingley, both of whom practice in London, announced this week that they are leaving Ivanyan and Partners and the law firm's London office will close. US law firms Sidley Austin and Venable have also said that they are no longer representing Russian clients affected by sanctions.